THE PLATFORM’s premise is rich with details. The film is set entirely within a vertical prison with one cell per floor, and two inmates per cell. Each pair of inmates is randomly assigned a new floor at the beginning of the month. Food is distributed via the titular platform, which stops for two minutes per day on each floor. If there’s no food left when the platform reaches your floor, too bad. Thankfully, it feels much less like an exposition dump in practice.
I was thoroughly impressed with the concise worldbuilding on display throughout THE PLATFORM, even within the opening minutes. The audience is thrown into the action and introduced to protagonist Goreng (Ivan Massagué) and his cellmate Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) on floor 48. This first meeting isn’t simply used to summarise how the prison operates, but establishes an eerie tone which never lets up. While the men discover their vastly different backgrounds (one of them is actually there voluntarily), the camera subtly raises questions and heightens the sense of dread. A wide shot reveals the claustrophobic, dank space the two men will share. Peering down the void in the centre of each cell provides a terrifying sense of scale as tiny figures slowly fade to black. That is, a traditionally creepy aesthetic paired with a looming fear of the unknown, which is as good as horror films get.
Given the sets are so confined, it’s unsurprising that the script focuses on filling the space with intriguing characters and scenarios. The contrast between Goreng and Trimagasi is particularly engaging; the former has just begun his sentence while the latter is approaching release, effectively assuming the role of an unwanted mentor. Massagué and Eguileor are each perfectly calibrated, allowing their early moments of camaraderie such as reading and exercising together to feel genuine. However, when things get desperate the actors turn on a dime. Eguileor channels the smiling, delusional menace of Norman Bates to transform his character into an unambiguous villain. Simultaneously, Massagué imbues Goreng with the ferocity of a wounded animal, leaving the audience primed for their impending showdown.
The secondary characters are similarly intense and mostly well-written, though not always fully utilised. For instance, fellow inmate Imoguiri (Antonia San Juan) originally worked for the administration behind the prison but chose to commit herself to change the system. Although this is admittedly the catalyst for most of THE PLATFORM’s second half, it’s mostly through Goreng’s reaction to her beliefs rather than her character changing. Yet not only is Imoguiri’s motivation wasted, her screen time is usurped by Goreng’s new cellmate Baharat (Emilio Buale Coka), the obnoxious exception to what I said before about this film’s characters being well-written. Buale plays him as a loud, easily manipulated zealot with no backstory who vaguely wants to escape and send a vague message to the administration. At their nadir, these qualities combine to give us a grown man obsessed with preserving a panna cotta from the platform to prove the inmates aren’t total gluttons, complete with an overacted catchphrase (“the panna cotta!”).
Baharat is indicative of THE PLATFORM’s greatest weakness: it’s unclear exactly what it’s trying to say. To be clear, there are plenty of ruminations on how ‘the system’ and humanity need to change, which certainly suggest the film wants to do more than simply tell a fun horror story. I don’t believe having a profound message is necessary, especially for genre films, so this normally wouldn’t be an issue. Unfortunately though, the second act is stuffed with overly long sequences depicting Goreng’s internal moral debates that are too vague to be insightful and slow the action to a crawl. While it’s a relatively small criticism, I couldn’t help but notice this section of the film felt like a letdown. Overall, THE PLATFORM is still remarkably well-executed horror that I feel any thrill seeker needs to check out. Just make sure any squeamish viewers have left the room first!